Who Invented The Ladder?

Do you know who invented the ladder?

If there’s one household tool that is very functional in our daily lives but often neglected, it’s got to be the ladder.  Have you ever thought about who invented the ladder? 

Most of us have been going up and down the ladder without even knowing who the genius is behind this incredible tool.  Now, I bet, you’re beginning to wonder who the inventor is.  

A Mesolithic rock painting in the caves in Spain, it can be noticed that ladders already existed in Western Europe during the Mesolithic period. It has also been proven that they have evolved in the Middle Ages.

Stories Behind the Ladder

Who really invented the ladder? It is hard to identify who the real inventor of the ladder is.  Online encyclopedias can only give an answer pertaining to the inventor of the first-ever contemporary stepladder, but not the old-fashioned one.    

As proven by the cave paintings in Spain, we all now know that the ladder has already been long existent ages ago.  The paintings of ladders on the wall were perceived to have been painted in a very detailed manner, from the ancient human beings to their personal effects and things, which includes the ladder.  

There’s one painting showing 2 persons getting honey from a bee nest using a ladder.  This is one strong evidence that the inventor of a ladder was from a generation that lived maybe thousands of years ago. 

There was even an assumption that ancient Egyptians have already used ladders way before the cave painting was rendered on the wall.  Could they have used them when they were building pyramids?  Hmmm…

So many stories yet still so many questions.  

What People Used Before the Presence of Ladders

Here is another question that will surely leave us thinking.  What did people from a long time ago use before the ladder was invented?  Any guesses?

Maybe people from ancient times used poles of bamboos when wanting to reach something high.  They could’ve even used thick vines to swing themselves from tree to tree like Tarzan.  

I am quite sure that people back then were jam-packed with resourcefulness and creativity.  Let’s all remember that in those ages, the survival of the fittest was the name of the game.  If you can’t climb, then you cannot get as many foods as you want or you cannot even save yourself from atrocities.  

As years go by, people have discovered ways to make their lives much easier.  Like, for example, when people began liking honey, they feel the need to reach beehives that can only be found on high trees.  So, they try to come up with inventions that can help cater to their needs.  Necessity, indeed, is the mother of invention.  

Do you think that the ladder might have just been invented randomly?  Yes, I think so.  Because if reaching for safety or finding food demands climbing, then people will naturally develop an instinct to think for possible ways, right? 

When we clean our roofs and gutters or change lightbulbs, we will now get to appreciate what the ladder can do for us.  Thanks to our forefathers who have made our lives easier.     

Origin of the Word “Ladder”

Ladder originated from an Anglo Saxon/Old English word “hlæder” that means “steps”.  It likewise came from an Old German word “leitara”, which means “to lean”.  

In Old English, the ladder was referred to as læddrestæfæ or ledder steles.  It is described as 2 vertical steels or side rails with horizontal rungs attached to them.

Uses of Ladders in Early Ages

The ladder was not only used for reaching bee nests. Well, I am 100% sure of that!  Ancient people most probably used ladders to climb to their abodes that can either be found in high caves and on tall trees.  

Before, the higher your home is, the safer you are from carnivorous animals, from your opponents, and from floods.  Hiding the ladders was also a possibility to make them even much safer.

Ladders have become a necessity in several cultures.  For places that have inferior houses, they were used as alternative stairs.

Ladders also served as an important tool in siege warfare during the Middle Ages.  They were leaned against walls, which allowed them to see their incoming enemies.  This gave them the advantage to calculate their defenses.

Who Devised the Folding Ladder?

Who invented ladders?  Unfortunately, we didn’t find any clear answer to this question, but we are certain that they were invented by our forefather’s thousands of years ago. 

What we have is the name of the inventor of the folding step ladder.  His name is John H. Balsley, a carpenter from the US.  He successfully patented his creation in January of 1862.  

The initial problem with step ladders is that they are bulky.  Isn’t it very comfortable to be walking around your house and see a ladder obstructing your way?  Absolutely!  You just can’t hide it even if you wanted to.   

But thanks to the ingenuity of John H. Balsley.  Because of him, the issue of bulkiness has been resolved.  Just simply putting hinges at the uppermost part of the stepladder instantly made it foldable. Such a genius!

The demand for the folding step ladder, which has an inverted “V’ shape, has been thriving over the years.  What’s good about this ladder is that it can stand alone even without leaning against a wall.  It is durable, reliable, and safe.  It is perfect in yards and homes as they come in very handy.  

There’s no problem anymore in storing a stepladder and in transporting it as they have become a lot lighter.  Now we have aluminum ladders, stainless steel ladders, and fiberglass ladder

The step ladder that was designed by Balsley has also evolved.  From having rounded rungs, he changed it to flat rungs, which became safer to use.  

So, if you’re planning to do some climbing in your home or backyard, get a ladder that is safe and convenient.  Get a John H. Balsley foldable stepladder!

Why was the fire escape ladder invented?

In Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Joseph Winters invented a wagon-mounted fire escape ladder. His suggestion was to have ladders already mounted to the wagons that they could raise. It was easier to raise ladders with Winters’ invention. There were problems with transporting and setting up regular ladders.

In 1878, a fire escape like this was invented by him at a time when cities were growing up rather than growing outwards.

Winters’ patents for the fire escape ladder, hose conductor, and his work on the Underground Railroad were commemorated with a historic marker in 2005 at the Junior Hose and Truck Company #2 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.

SHAREWIN Retractable 3 Story Fire Escape Ladder Portable Emergency Escape Ladder 25 Feet with Anti-Slip Rungs
Modern-day fire escape ladder

Which came first, stairs or ladders?

Modern staircases are like a marriage of two types: architectural and practical, but domestic in nature. Hence, stairs were naturally created by nature and not by humans, but they did come first due to accidents. Ladders were likely the first tools deliberately made.

Different types of ladders we use today

Step ladders

Step ladders are self-supporting, portable ladders that are non-adjustable in length. They are highly portable, have flat steps, and are easily stored using a hinge system. The length can range from a small ladder of 4 to 20 feet along the side rail. An A-frame stepladder is a portable ladder that supports itself from above. It has two side rails in the front and two in the rear.

Best Choice Products 3- Step Steel Ladder, Folding Portable Step Stool w/ Non Slip Rubber Feet, Rubber Foot Pads, 330lb Capacity

Straight ladders

Unlike self-supporting ladders, straight ladders are tall and rigid. Leaning against a stable support surface is essential. These ladders are usually used to paint the exterior of our homes or to access the roof of our homes.

Werner (D6212-1) Single Ladder, Fiberglass

Telescopic ladder

There are several advantages to using a telescoping ladder over a traditional ladder, including its versatility, portability, and convenience. In contrast to an extension ladder or an adjustable ladder, telescopic ladders use patented technology that extends and locks at the feet to a user’s desired height, making them extremely versatile.

The most popular size of the telescopic ladder is 3.8 meters or 12.5 feet since it covers most jobs like reaching the gutters on a single-story house. Telescoping ladders can be extended by one foot at a time. Thus, it could be extended just 6 feet, 7 feet, or even 12 feet.

Xtend & Climb Tallest Telescoping Ladder

Platform ladders

Platform ladders are step ladders with a platform at the top. While you are working on the platform, railings are usually present to provide safety. You can stand comfortably on this ladder for a long period of time. By using a platform ladder, you can prevent aching feet and legs from scratching against the next step.

Hailo 0850-827 L100 Pro, 8-Ft Folding Lightweight Aluminum Step Platform Ladder, Black

Extension ladders

The extension ladder is a straight ladder used for reaching high places. It must be facing support like a wall or tree before it can be used. This ladder is comprised of two parts, the base, and the fly. The best extension ladders can be made up of 3 parts to reach higher places, the fly must have a solid base while its extension can extend above it.

Louisville Ladder 24-Feet Extension Ladder, 300-Pound Duty Rating, AE2224

Trestle ladders

Trestle ladders are defined by OSHA as self-supporting ladders with an adjustable length that are attached together by a suitable means of locking.

Known as a Double Front Ladder, this is a portable ladder that is non-adjustable in length and hinged at the top. Designed to be climbed by two people at the same time, one on each side, it consists of two sections.

Depending on how far the side rails extend, a truss ladder can span up to 20 ft. At the top of a Trestle Ladder, there is a standing level that is slightly higher than 2 feet.

Werner E7412 300-Pound Duty Rating Fiberglass Extension Trestle Ladder, 12-Foot

Multi-way ladders

Multi-purpose ladders can be used for a variety of tasks with one piece of equipment. The multi-purpose ladder is fast replacing many bulky and expensive ladders, steps, and scaffolding, as the doorway of choice for both professionals and DIYers alike. A flexible ladder such as these saves the user storage space and money.

19.5 ft Folding Ladder Heavy Duty Step Tall Ladders with 2 Platform Plates Multipurpose Aluminum Extension Scaffolding Platform, 330 lbs (Sliver)


We may not have gotten to a conclusion as to who the inventor of ladders really was.  But one thing is for sure, its history is rather very interesting.  Backtracking the people who first used ladders is like finding a lost treasure.  

From prehistoric times to this day, we’ve seen ladders evolve, from being a necessity to an essential tool.  We’ve also witnessed how it satisfactorily made our lives easier.  

So, let’s be grateful for its existence, and let’s appreciate all those who invented the ladders.  


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